Box Patterns will Ruin your Slide Guitar Playing!

A lot of people seem to think that when you start learning slide guitar in another tuning, the first thing you need to do is learn where the minor pentatonic box patterns are located in this new tuning.

If you’re learning slide in standard tuning, many people will simple use the same pentatonic boxes to play slide licks.

While using these box patterns will give you a few ideas, you need to re-think these patterns to have any real long term success when playing slide guitar in standard tuning.

Bad Idea

Well, I’m here to tell you that using box patterns is probably one of the worst things you can do when you start learning slide guitar. Simply put, these box patterns are not what you use to successfully learn and play slide guitar.

Think about it. When playing slide guitar, you move the slide up and down the fretboard, not across. All those fast patterns you learn when playing standard blues guitar are useless when playing slide. You must starting thinking differently!

Playing more melodically, with less notes, will take you a long way when playing slide.


Just because you hear Derek Trucks playing all these really difficult licks, doesn’t mean that you have to start out trying to play like that. Melody and space will take you very far when playing slide.

If you only take one thing away from this post, remember that slide guitar playing moves up and down the fretboard, not vertically across the fretboard like many people play standard blues guitar. If you keep this in mind, you will be more likely to become successful when learning how to play slide.

For more information on learning how to play slide guitar check out my Slide Guitar Courses.

John W Tuggle
John W Tuggle

I love teaching the blues and have created numerous training courses and lessons to learn how to play like BB King, Clapton, Duane Allman, and more. Get Started Now


  1. Hey, thanks for this info. I’ve been considering embarking on a slide-learning journey as the next step on the guitar, but I was under the impression slide guitar was much more effective when using open tunings (which I am also yet to learn). Would I be better off starting with slide on standard or open?

    • I think learning in Open Tunings is the easiest way to start. I started in Standard Tuning, and I think it’s harder. Thanks for the comment.

  2. Great! Thanks John.

    This blog has inspired me to pick up the slide again. I’ve had your first Slide Guitar course (Awesome!) for over a year now and as a weekend guitar (or whenever life slows down enough) player, I have yet to have had the ‘ah ha’ moment with the slide. What you’ve said is exactly where I’ve been with slide approach, which answers why I’ve not made the progress that I wished to have made. That and comparing my sloppy slide to Derek Trucks licks. (Dang!) Easy to go back to the old pentatonic box patterns and do the same ol thing. I’ll work on the space and melody see where that takes me..

    Keep the experienced insight coming, we all benefit!


  3. John,

    I’ve purchased several of your lessons and especially your Open-E slide guitar course. (I also love your podcast, blog and web-site.) I absolutely agree that playing slide becomes more intuitive (and sounds a lot better) once you get your head around the concept of playing up and down the fret-board rather than across the fret-board. I tried on my own to learn to play slide in standard tuning, and the results weren’t that good. I think part of the problem was that when it became frustrating with the slide, it was just so easy to slip the slide off and start jamming away. Once I decided to try to play slide in Open-E, I no longer had that “easy out”. I think another big part of it (for me, at least) was that the open tuning, which was completely new to me, took me out of my standard tuning comfort zone so it felt like I was learning the instrument all over again. I think that opened up my mind enough to embrace new concepts – like focusing on up and down the fret-board rather than across. I still play slide mostly in Open-E, but I find that now when I do play slide in standard tuning, it’s like my mind is already tuned into the “Slide Area” (to pinch a Ry Cooder album title), so I naturally default to the up and down the fret-board approach. Thanks for your hard work – your hard work has made it easier for me to become a better player!

  4. I purchased the entire slide course a couple months ago and have gone through the Open E course and more. Having never played slide before nor use fingers for picking, it’s like starting over somewhat playing guitar. The thing John’s course helped me realize on my own for learning purposes was to break down the elements and get reasonably good with each element then begin putting it together. So I spent 2 hours a day just learning to finger pick and dampen the other strings. That was the hardest for me and took a good month doing nothing else but finger dampening and picking. If I tried to learn that, plus new “scales” for open tuning, plus getting used to how I place the slide on the strings/vibrato, there were too many variables at the same time. So once the finger dampening was decent, I switched to learning some of the patterns or scales for Open E. Once that became familiar, then I started to focus on how the slide rode the strings/the angles/vibrato. Now the courses from John are really paying dividends because I can focus on the lessons instead of fumbling around with bad mechanics when first learning. The DVDs are excellent if any of you are thinking about purchasing it.

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